Sikorsky Commercial Helo takes Autonomous Flight
STRATFORD, Conn., June 1 (UPI) -- A Sikorsky S-76 commercial helicopter has performed a 30-mile autonomous flight as part of a U.S. military project.
The flight -- from Sikorsky's facility in Stratford, Conn., to Robertson Airport in Plainville, Conn. -- was performed using Sikorsky's Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System, or ALIAS.
"With the advances we've made, the capability for safe, unobtrusive optionally piloted flight is here," said Mark Miller, vice president of Engineering & Technology at Sikorsky. "ALIAS is expanding the role of optionally piloted helicopters for early entry into established aircraft programs. It has the capability of not only reducing aircrew size, but also changing the type and length of training required for safe operation."
The successful flight demonstration brought to conclusion the first phase of an ALIAS program of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop and insert new levels of automation into existing military and commercial aircraft to enable those aircraft to operate with reduced flight crew.
Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, has now begun Phase 2 work on DARPA'a ALIAS program under a $9.8 million award modification which focuses on continued maturation of the initial ALIAS system with additional flight tests, enhancements to the human interface and transition to additional aircraft to demonstrate ALIAS portability.
"The current environment limits the creation of new, optionally piloted platforms," said Chris Van Buiten, vice president of Sikorsky Innovations, the technology research group for the Engineering & Technology organization. "What Sikorsky and DARPA are demonstrating is the successful and affordable integration of advanced technology onto existing legacy aircraft to not only set the stage for autonomous operations down the road, but also to immediately improve aircraft performance, reduce maintenance costs, and increase crew and passenger safety."